There were a few complications with my birth that caused me to have what was later diagnosed as mild cerebral palsy. To a casual observer, I would just look like clumsy kid that moved awkwardly. I was also born with polymorphous light eruptions, an allergy to the sun, in Florida, the Sunshine State. I've said it many times before, and I'll say it many times more: that's all the evidence I need that God has a sense of humor.
Between these two conditions, I was simply not cut out for physical activity. When I was younger, I wanted to fit in with the other kids who played sports. Unfortunately, no amount of practice was going to help me be anywhere near their skill level. Certainly not the amount I could fit in before my allergy became a concern.
When I was five, my father petitioned the court for a visitation. We went to a park; he wanted to play catch. The major problem we quickly ran into was that I could not catch the ball. After chasing it down, I tried to throw it back to him, but it plopped down a couple feet in front of me. This same routine played out for a few minutes before I told him, "I'm sorry. I'm just really not good at this stuff."
He cursed at me in a whisper so that the worker supervising the visitation wouldn't hear. My father saw my imperfections, or at least their effects, and he rejected me for them. He never sought another visitation.
When I was seventeen, a friend of mine was going to take a trip to a ministry out of state. He had been diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when he was nine years old. To him, this ministry promised freedom and healing. To me, it sounded like a source of incredible disappointment. I didn't believe in healing, even after people very close to me had claimed that God healed an assortment of their ailments. My friend was going to head off to this ministry full of hope and return with nothing but despair. I did the only thing I could think to do: I said I wanted to be healed, also. When nothing happened, I would be there for moral support. So my friend, his mother, his aunt and I all drove up to Georgia.
The first night we were there, the ministry played a recording of the pastor giving an interview to a Christian TV show. The sanctuary only had one projector screen, but it was enormous. No matter where you were, it looked like that pastor was staring right at you. What surprised me was that the pastor was not talking about healing, what his ministry was primarily known for. Instead, he was talking about the Father's love.
I knew halfway through the recording that I was in trouble: there was a heaviness in my chest and stomach, a lump in my throat, tears in my eyes. I grew up in churches being told about how God was my Father, even if my earthly father was an abusive felon. I believed it in my head, but I was sick of hearing it, especially when people would pray that God would lift up "spiritual fathers" around me without even seeming to consider that maybe they were supposed to be one of them.
At the end of the interview, that pastor pointed right at the camera, making it look like he was pointing directly at me, and asked, "Do you remember your father ever saying, 'I love you?'"
That's when I lost it. The floodgates were opened. I wept openly and loudly for the next three hours, although it felt like no more than a few minutes. My answer was, "No." That didn't exactly surprise anyone. What surprised me was when I felt a question pressing insistently on my mind, "Do you want to be healed?"
The beginning of John 5 tells of Jesus' visit to the pool of Bethesda, meaning "house of mercy." The blind, lame, and paralyzed gathered there, hoping for healing. A belief formed that an angel would stir the waters, and the first one in the pool when that happened would be restored. While there, Jesus encountered a man that had been unable to walk for thirty-eight years.
John 5:6-7 (ESV)
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”
The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.”
For a long time, I didn't understand why Jesus would ask such an absurd question. Why wouldn't the man want to be healed? Why would he be in a place of healing if he wanted to remain the same? It's telling that the man did not give a yes or no answer: instead, he explained his understanding of why he was not healed. In response, Jesus showed that he didn't need a magic pool to heal anyone.
John 5:8-9 (ESV)
Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Imagine that you haven't been able to walk for thirty-eight years. You've been seeking God and praying for your healing. Then, while at a place of healing, some random guy walks up and asks you if you actually want to be healed. How frustrated would you be? You explain that you've been doing everything you know to do. He tells you to get up and walk away. How offended would you be?
For thirty-eight years, this man had been an invalid. For thirty-eight years, he was considered less than. Everything in his experience, mind, and heart must have been screaming, "I would if I could!" Jesus was calling him to look beyond his experience, beyond what he knew about himself and his abilities. The man accepted that call.
At seventeen, I received the same question as that man: "Do you want to be healed?" The answer seemed so obvious, but I didn't give it. Instead, I thought of what healing would mean giving up. "I can't help with that, sorry. I'd be out in the sun too long." "Trust me, you don't want me to help move anything. I'm clumsy and weak; I'll just get in the way." I was comfortable in my physically useless nature. It was a part of who I was, an interwoven part of my experience and identity. I was comfortable with the easy excuses it gave me. I wasn't prepared to give any of that up, so my answer was, "No." I didn't really want to be healed.
He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.
Gold and silver don't come out of the ground in bars. They come out in chunks of ore, mixed together with other minerals. In order to get at the precious metals, you have to smelt the ore. You heat it up to intense temperatures that melt its components. Gold and silver are heavier metals, so they sink to the bottom of the crucible. That leaves the slag, the sludge of everything else, up at the top to be skimmed out.
Until you smelt the ore, it will often look like it is just a rock. You may be able to see that there's something valuable inside of it, but what good is that when there's all this other junk mixed together?
"Do you want to be healed?" Answering, "No," was saying that I wanted to remain that ore. I knew that being healed meant I would be able to do more for God, but in many ways, that's what I was afraid of. I had spent so much time cursing God for not protecting me from my ailments, but there I was holding on to what they had to offer. That's not the person I wanted to be. So, I gave my answer: "Yes."
I was healed that night. My brain was restored, although there's still some awkwardness to this day because of muscle memory. My skin no longer breaks out in tiny, chicken-pox-looking open sores when I'm in the sun.
(My friend was not healed, by the way. Thirteen years later, I still don't know why. All that I know is that God is good.)
From a young age, I was told that I needed to be strong for my family. I was the man of the house. I wasn't allowed to openly grieve being abandoned by my father, much less anything else. At a certain point, I had decided that if people wouldn't give me their pity, I would take it from them. Being healed removed my most effective tools for manipulation.
If you take the needles away from a heroine addict, they aren't going to suddenly lose the desire for the drug. I had said, "Yes," to the healing, but now I was in detox. My method of extracting pity from other people had been removed, but my craving for it was alive and well. Without a way to quiet it, it grew louder and louder until I couldn't ignore it anymore. But as I obeyed, as I lifted these desires to God, he worked his heavenly metallurgy on me, and I came out purer on the other side.
That wasn't the first time I was put through the fire, and it certainly wasn't the last. God dealt with my anger, my hatred, my self-pity, my manipulative ways, my lying, my laziness, my idolatry, and many, many other issues. I know that there's still more to come. Each time I was in the refiner's fire, all that I could see was the slag, the sludge that rises to the top. "Look at how filthy and worthless I am. Why does God even bother with me?" But God isn't a fool. He's not going to melt down worthless ore. He doesn't look at the slag: he knows the precious gold that is right beneath it.
I always find it incredible that I can read the Bible, even chapters and verses I've read countless times throughout my life, and still be amazed by the things that God will draw out of them. Things that I've missed, overlooked, or taken for granted for so long. It turns out that the same thing was happening with my testimony.
There was another question I was asked the night I was healed. Before, "Do you want to be healed?" was, "Do you remember your father ever saying, 'I love you?'" My earthly father saw my ailments, saw my shortcomings and rejected me because of them. But my heavenly Father healed me of them as a way to shout his love to me so loudly that it was unmistakable.
He stripped me of the identity I had: the fatherless, clumsy kid that had to prove his worth out of his own strength. He gave me a physical reminder that my new identity was a son of a Father that loved me completely, that would not abandon me.
He healed my brain, then he renewed my mind. He healed me of my allergy to the sun, then he put me through a fire that was brighter and hotter than the sun ever could be. Not as a punishment, not arbitrarily, not to make me feel guilt or shame. Like any good father, he wanted his son to become the man he knew he could be.
Christians aren't promised a comfortable life. Being purified in this way certainly isn't pleasant. If it was supposed to be, I think God would have used a metaphor that doesn't involve being liquefied. But as sons and daughters of the most high God, we should not cower when we feel his heat on us, when his light is shining on our impurities. He's pointing them out so we can lift them up to him, so we will not be corrupted by that slag any longer. Thank God that he takes us as he finds us. How wonderful that he loves us enough to not leave us there.
He made us. He knows our worth. He knows what he put in us. Let him remove everything else.